‘Goodbye to All That Director’ Angus MacLachlan: Interview
Goodbye to All That screened at the IFC Center in New York City on Wednesday, December 17th. I had the opportunity to sit down with the film’s writer/director Angus MacLachlan to discuss how he felt about his directorial debut.
About the film
Goodbye to All That is a multi-genre work that is beautifully unique and impossible to pin down. Like life it is composed of wonderful comedic moments, drama, poignancy and surprises that smash you over the head. It is an adult coming-of-age film about a late-30-something male, Otto Wall, played by Paul Schneider. Otto’s wife leaves him and he is upended, having to deal with loneliness and learn about dating, sex and relationships in the Social Media age, while raising his 11-year-old daughter.
About Angus MacLachlan
MacLachlan is an award-winning playwright. As a screenwriter he is best known for Junebug which earned him a nomination for an Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay, and which garnered a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for Amy Adams. Junebug also won a Special Jury Citation at Sundance Film Festival in 2005, and was nominated for Best Screenplay by the Washington Area Film Critics. It appears that the screenwriter/director is moving in the same vein with this, his latest film. Goodbye to All That received noted acclaim in its world premiere at 2014 Tribeca Film Festival where it was a festival winner in the Best Actor category for a narrative feature. MacLachlan was also nominated in the Best Narrative Feature category.
You’ve morphed from screenwriting and added directing to your skill set. How do you feel about this?
The most satisfying thing about directing this film is that I got to complete the process. I was a playwright for a number of years and an actor for a number of years. When you write for theater or film you don’t write for it to be written. You write for it to be experienced in time and space in some manner. And a lot of times, especially if you’re a screenwriter, things aren’t made. So it feels frustrating. It feels like you haven’t finished the process. Or if you’re just a screenwriter, sometimes you don’t see the full execution of your work. For example I loved Junebug and I loved what Phil Morrison did. But sometimes I’ve had the experience where they’ve taken what I’ve done, and not done what I thought or what my intentions were, and it didn’t turn out well or turn out how I thought it should be. With this one I got to finish the process and follow my imagination. I was able to say, look! This is the way I think it should be acted. This is the way I think it should be cut. That was great. I got to make the movie I wanted to make which was great and rare.
So as the director, you had the opportunity to pretty much stick to the screenplay
as it was written.
Well, with Junebug, Phil Morrison really, really respected the text in a way that is unusual. But some people think of screenplays as just being jumping off points. I really am a text person, so the text was set and we did the text. Yes, the actors will throw in a line or a suggestion. But it was really what I imagined. What I had written was what the final film is.
I particularly like the incorporation of social media and how you developed your main character Otto who is blindsided by his wife who wants a divorce. Can you talk about how you worked on his characterization and what inspired you to create Otto Wall?
Well, the film came about because of a number of friends who had gone through similar circumstances as Otto [had]. I am married myself and have a daughter, but I’m not divorced. Today, I’m not divorced. But I had a number of close friends who went through very similar things. They would tell me stories that were harrowing and sad and scary and funny and erotic and sexy and I would take notes about them. Finally, I thought: I’m going to have to write something.
One of the inspirations for the film was this movie from the 1970s, An Unmarried Woman with Jill Clayburgh, which was about a woman who was married and had a daughter and suddenly, her husband says I don’t want to be married. She goes out on dates and has to balance that with being a mother, and eventually she meets this great guy played by Allen Bates, but doesn’t leave with him. That was in 1979, and really about the women’s movement and feminism and how a woman can stand on her own.
I wanted to see if could you tell that story from a man’s perspective. Otto is not immature, he’s just unconscious. He’s not aware and he’s got to become conscious. He needs to have his consciousness raised. Can one tell that story? So that’s really where the film came about.
Your idea of the social media piece was a real theme about how he discovers what his wife was doing because he spies on Facebook, and how an old girlfriend finds him because of Facebook, and how through a site like OKCupid you can pick up people. Things are so different than they were maybe 15 years ago before he was married. That was a real intention in the film.
I thought it was very organic as well, when he goes to Facebook with her password and follows her posts and makes a discovery. I must have laughed for a full minute because I know someone that happened to.
I know [laughs]. When I wrote that, I did a little poll with married couples. I asked them, “Do you know your mate’s password? When would you ever use it?” The first thing everyone would say was, “If I thought they were cheating, I would use it.” Some people were like, “Well, I don’t know.” But a lot of them would.
The element of trust comes into it. You have to trust one another not to go on Facebook. You don’t want to be stalking your own mate.
I thought his age and Facebook which is for an older crowd was great. My grandniece (she’s 13) uses Instagram. It would have been a different film. Could you talk about that?
You know, we were a little bit delayed in being released. I kept telling the team, “We’ve got to get released because you know something else may take its place.” [we both laugh] “They’re going to change Facebook, or something is going to change or something new will come along.” The tech moves so, so fast. But the thing I think is so common now is connecting to old friends and connecting to people you find on Facebook that you knew in high school. That happens I think to a lot of people in their 30s, 40s.
Absolutely. It was appropriate and added such a human quality to the film which was great. How did you cast Paul Schneider? What a find.
I know. Well, he is an actor I knew of. We actually both went to the same school, though I never met him before. A number of actors came up in discussion. We had a great casting guy, Mark Bennett. Otto Wall was a delicate role to cast. We needed someone who was attractive enough that all these women would want to go to bed with him, but he couldn’t be too attractive or he would be like a player. You had to believe he was a father, had to believe he was a runner and be able to do the physical piece. Also, I really wanted to cast an actor who you could believe liked women and wanted to go to bed with them and them with him.
Paul Schneider fit the part. He was from North Carolina which was great. I can’t imagine anyone else playing the character. He, Paul, is not like Otto. Paul is really smart, really sharp and Otto is not so smart. So he creates a complete character and he’s wonderful. And also we needed someone we could believe really was a father. Paul’s not a father, yet he really does a great job.
He was phenomenal. Well, Tribeca Film Festival awarded him Best Actor in a Narrative Feature, which is a validation of his acting and your directing. I thought your work with the editing was wonderful, including his reactions when he was on Facebook. Did you rehearse any of this beforehand?
We did very little rehearsal. No. I had a great editor, Jen Lilly, and we worked together every day side by side. I think my experience helped. I was an actor for a long time and had been on stage and in a few films and also directed in the theater. You get a feeling of rhythm and play. That was really important. You try to get the comedy and create moments that perhaps weren’t there in the performances. That comic rhythm was something that was very important.
Well, you certainly got it. What is your favorite moment?
I don’t know if I have any favorite moments in the film.
Or a moment that surprised you – anything like that.
I don’t know if it’s a favorite moment, but when Otto and Lara (Heather Lawless) first meet at the reunion, they’re standing in the doorway and they’re talking, talking, talking. Then she stops and says, “Oh, you have a daughter.” And he says, “Yes.” And she says, “Does she have your eyelashes?” And there’s a moment where they look at each other. They did not do this in reality. I had to create that moment. I just wanted to see her look, and remember, and think, you have a child, and I loved your eyelashes when we were 15 years old. I loved that. That’s movie making because it was the collaboration of what they did and didn’t do, and what the editing did and how it was shot. We created this moment. I just liked that humanness. You know it would be something that your old girlfriend would say. “When we were 15 we all talked about your great eyelashes. Now you have a daughter. Does she have them too?” I just thought that’s a very human thing.
When moments like that work and form a wholeness, that’s exciting. So where do you go from here?
You’re telling me. [we laugh]
The doors are opening. I saw it at Tribeca. Paul won and the film was nominated.
From your mouth to God’s ears! Unfortunately we have a very, very tiny release. The situation with films is it is very hard to get them in theaters. We’ll be in VOD. But because the genre is not out-and-out comedy nor out-and-out drama and because our actors are not Matthew McConaughey, it’s very hard to sell it. It’s been a real challenge to get it out there. It still is.
It would do well in my local indie movie theater..
Where’s your theater?
In the city, Queens.
See, it’s only playing at the IFC Center, starting on Wednesday.
So the word needs to get out.
It sure does. I have been contacting everyone. I’m not even on Facebook and I’m doing a Facebook page and contacting everybody I know to go see it. [we laugh] It’s only going to open in five theaters. In New York and Pittsburgh and Santa Fe and Monterey and Winston-Salem, North Carolina. I’m like, if it’s not in your theater, tell folks to get it on VOD.
I know so many people who would adore this film. It’s that age group (married, getting divorced). It’s not a chick flick, and guys will see the females and really appreciate them.
That’s my thought. [we laugh] Too bad you’re not running a studio.
How did you get the funding?
It was cobbled together through private financing. And it wasn’t Kickstarter. Just me going and begging.
What did you learn?
Enormous things, enormous things. I learned a lot about how to write. I understand why screenwriters are treated badly in films because the director really has to make the film his own. I learned a lot about how vulnerable actors are and how a director really can create a performance and make it even better or make it much worse than what the actor does. I learned a lot about the business and how really dire independent film making is. I learned that it’s tough.
That hurts because I have friends who are trying.
I know. There are so many films out there and so few ways to make money at it or make money back.
What about Netflix?
Well, it will be on iTunes and VOD and Amazon and then they negotiate later for Netflix. But you know Netflix is going to produce their own stuff, so who knows what they’re going to do.
But it will get legs and as it gets out there, people will find it.
Yeah, they have to discover it.
Could you talk a little bit about the women you cast in the film?
They were great. Thanks goes to a great casting director. I really needed strong women who could make an impression in like two minutes. Amy Sedaris is on the screen for two minutes and you don’t know who she is. And Celia Weston who plays the therapist. All of them were so fantastic. And the women who did the sex scenes? It is very difficult to do that. Everyone was so professional. The women liked Paul and Paul liked them. I had a lot of luck. I love our cast. I love watching the film because I like to see their performances.
Amy Camp was hysterical. (Amy Camp plays Debbie Spangler who yells out her name at the oddest times, asserting her identity.)
Yeah, Amy Camp was great.
What about the idea of the women’s identity? It’s interesting that you were inspired by the Jill Clayburgh film but on the other hand this is equal time for women plus men. I thought that was amazing.
Well, one of the things I really, really wanted in all of the sex scenes was that everyone was an adult and working out of their own volition. Nobody was taking advantage of anybody else. All of the women were not being taken advantage of. It was very important to show that these people are adults. These are people who are old enough to do what they want to do and take responsibility for it. Even with Debbie Spangler who I think has a little bi-polar quality to her, when she says, “It was horrible and we shouldn’t have done that.” He says, “No. I never would have forced you to do anything. But we didn’t do anything wrong.” And she says, “Yes we did…”
But then she comes back.
She comes back and says that she’s crazy and she says, “You know you’re very sweet, actually, a very good man.”
The idea of church was perfect, and of course, the daughter brings it up. Could you explain how that idea evolved?
Well I think particularly for children at that age they start to think about God or hear about Him. If they are not going to a church they wonder about it. She’s worried about her father. He hurts himself all the time, and why does God do that? And in those church scenes she immediately goes to the minister and talks to him about her father. And the thing with Debbie Spangler is I didn’t want to make church the butt of the joke. I don’t think her problem is she’s religious. I think the problem is she needs some medication. She could be a strong Christian woman and still have some fun.
But you identified one of the issues with certain churches because every person raised in the church has to decide if sex out of marriage is OK or not. Her reaction was so organic, so real.
Good. Thank you.
How do you put on the page these real people?
I think it’s from observation and really wanting to portray real people. The film in its essence is kind of a sitcom idea. You know, divorced Dad dates again. It’s The Courtship of Eddie’s Father but I wanted, I guess because it was inspired by friends of mine, I wanted to portray it in a realistic manner.
I wish you all luck with the film, and I hope it gets the audience it deserves in its release in New York City at the IFC Center on Wednesday, December 17 and its release in Winston-Salem, NC, Monterey, CA., Santa Fe, NM and Pittsburgh, PA.
This interview first appeared on Blogcritics.
‘Goodbye to All That,’ Starring Award Winning Paul Schneider (Tribeca Film Festival)
Playwright and screenwriter of Junebug, the award winning Angus MacLachlan, has done it again! He has penned a funny, poignant, commonsensical and incredibly human film which will resonate with a wide swath of individuals if it is discoverable to them. And Goodbye to All That, also directed by MacLachlan should be imminently discoverable. After all, the age group that this clever, saavy movie should appeal to ranges from thirty-somethings to sixty-somethings, and includes men and women. If you enjoy Indie films that cut through the hype, shmoozy glitter, and intentional, self-conscious realism, Goodbye to All That is for you, especially if you like to laugh.
Though the film has a regional feel, its subject touches upon issues that city-folks can relate to, namely separation, divorce and reentering the hot dating scene using Social Media after years of a settled, somnambulant marriage. MacLachlan is a canny director. He knows how best to achieve humor with his comedic timing and knowledge of how to vary silence, a look and a glance, with pacing and rhythm. The result has brought about an award winning performance by the likeable, human and very funny Paul Schneider who plays the everyman protagonist, Otto Wall. Paul Schneider who won a Best Actor in a Narrative Feature award at Tribeca Film Festival is incomparably Otto.
With clear precision, from the outset, MacLachlan intimates that Otto’s and Annie’s (a fine performance by Melanie Lynskey), relationship is terminally ill. The humor is that Otto is the only one who is back at the alter thinking everything is going really well. The arc of the film is Otto’s dawning realization that he has to grow up and confront who he is and what he wants in a relationship with a woman and especially in his relationship with his daughter after he separates from his wife. As he juggles his priorities, he begins to understand where he has come from. But will he be able to resume an existence without the woman who was so comfortable in his life’s landscape that he forgot she was there?
This is a tall order for Otto, as it might be for many men who have grown into a dullard’s reality of walking through time with someone they don’t know, understand or are interested in, even if it is their wife. However, Otto is fortunate to receive help. It comes in the form of a number of beautiful, autonomous, independent-minded and intelligent women. It’s an interesting arrangement; he is interested in them sexually and they are interested in him sexually. This is the age of Social Media and women are approachable at the click of a button on Facebook and the same applies for men as both genders surf online dating sites and profiles to see if there might be compatibility.
For Otto this is a kind of mecca. What was once a deadening existence just moving through the ethers now becomes a life that is thrilling and alive. After the first “date” he is invigorated and “rarein to go.” The painful jolt of being dumped (no spoiler alert…I will not ruin it for you as to the specifics), has revived him from near brain death. And that electric current is spurring him on to recognize that culturally “things have changed” after being out of the social loop for 15 married years. And it’s a change for the better.
Otto works through gauging his priorities and begins to develop into a responsible, caring male. Some of this evolves because of the unique responses and reciprocation of feelings from the women he engages with- Mildred (Ashley Hinshaw), Stephanie (Heather Graham), and Debbie Spangler (Anna Camp). Their meet-ups and dates are hilarious, surprising and real. Otto also is guided by his daughter (11-year-old Edie), whom he attempts to please and who is not afraid to “get real” and censure him when/if he goes too far with his women friends. Massaged by all of this female wisdom and the added preciousness of reestablishing a connection with an old girlfriend (Heather Lawless), he knew and cared for in high school (the classmates find each other via Facebook and hold a reunion), Otto finally gets to make a conscious decision about what he wants and who he is. He has landed on solid ground. He recognizes that he enjoys his life for he is no longer sailing away on the wings of oblivion in an existence that will be over before it really begins.
Goodbye to All That, an apt title, is meaningful without appearing to be “profound.” Yet it is real, touching, powerful and extremely funny. How MacLachlan achieves all this in a concentrated work whose scenes are precisely edited so they are just enough, and the dialogue sufficient without any extraneous bits to reveal the characters’ wants and needs is an extraordinary achievement for a first time director. It would be a shame if the film didn’t get the recognition it deserves for the writing and directing and the women’s acting ensemble in support of Schneider’s performance. All sync seamlessly.
This review first appeared on Blogcritics.